Searching for a Cure to Cervical Cancer
by: Dr. Theresa Chang and Dr. Mark Einstein

Cervical cancer remains a major problem globally. It is the second most common cancer and a major cause of cancer deaths in women. Locally, cervical cancer is also a major problem in Newark and the surrounding communities.

Infection with a cancer-causing form of human papillomavirus (HPV) is required for the development of cervical cancer. However, most women easily clear an HPV infection through their immune system. However, some women cannot, and if not picked up with screening and treated early, early precancerous lesions can become cervical cancer over time.

Cervical cancer develops as a result of the immune tug-of-war in the cervical microenvironment. When a woman’s immune system is not working well, such as in women infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), they are more likely to develop cervical cancer.

At Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, we endeavor to solve difficult and challenging questions for the patients we serve. With recent recruitment of top physicians and scientists, we have built teams of clinicians and scientists to study questions previously unstudied that have a major impact on the communities we serve. We are focused on providing state of the art, life-saving treatments to the residents of New Jersey and beyond. Because of the vulnerable patient populations we gladly serve and our expertise, we are able to solve these important and previously unanswerable questions.

Thanks in part to a recent grant by the Mary Kay Foundation, we will determine the specific immune functions that are impaired in women with cervical cancer and HIV. We will be studying cervical cancer tissue from patients who have donated tissues for this effort. Additionally, we will determine which immune functions accelerate the process of cervical cancer development, something that is concerning in HIV-infected women.

Our studies will expand our knowledge of how cervical cancer develops in women, especially vulnerable populations such as women infected with HIV and will contribute to the development of early diagnostic tools to prevent cervical cancer and novel immune-based cancer therapies for effective treatment of this deadly disease.

Cervical cancer is preventable and treatable. By identifying the ways to target improving the immune system, we can potentially improve outcomes in these women.

Dr. Theresa Chang is a Principal Investigator at Public Health Research Institute and Associate Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Molecular Genetics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Chang is also an expert in HIV and immune system function.

Dr. Mark Einstein is Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and a research member in the Clinical Investigations and Precision Therapeutics Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Dr. Einstein is also a consultant to the World Health Organization on the immune basis for HPV in addition to other leadership roles.